Learning the Lingo of Social Security

November 2, 2017 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Last Updated: August 19, 2021

two men chatting Is Social Security a topic in your conversations these days? Are you familiar with the lingo used to describe Social Security benefits, or does it sound like a new vocabulary to you?

Social Security employees strive to explain benefits using easy-to-understand, plain language. But if a technical term or acronym (an abbreviation of the first letters of words in a phrase) that you don’t know slips into the conversation or appears in written material, you can easily find the meaning in our online glossary

Social Security acronyms function as verbal shorthand in our financial planning conversations. If you’re nearing retirement, you may want to know what PIA (primary insurance amount), FRA (full retirement age), and DRCs (delayed retirement credits) mean. These terms involve your benefit amount based on when you decide to take it.

If you take your retirement benefit at FRA, you’ll receive the full PIA (amount payable for a retired worker who starts benefits at full retirement age). So, FRA is an age and PIA is an amount.

What about DRCs? Delayed retirement credits are the incremental increases added to the PIA if you delay taking retirement benefits beyond your full retirement age. If you wait to begin benefits beyond FRA — say, at age 68 or even 70 — your benefit increases.

Once you receive benefits, you get a COLA most years. But don’t expect a refreshing drink — a COLA is a Cost of Living Adjustment, and that usually means a little extra money in your monthly payment.

Knowing some of these terms can help you fine-tune your conversations about Social Security.  If one of those unknown terms or acronyms does come up in conversation, you can be the one to supply the definition using our online glossary. Sometimes learning the lingo can deepen your understanding of how Social Security works for you. Discover more on our website.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Babs G.

    I would say that Social Security employees need to be more customer friendly. I have met some very nice people but also some who act like they are doing me a favor. It’s not a favor. It’s their job and it’s MY money. I do like your article :Learning the Lingo of Social Security” but they should be speaking the “Lingo” of the English language, when ever possible. Everyone has certain terminology they use on their specific jobs but usually know it doesn’t carry over to the public at large. Thank you to all the employees who care to do the best job possible for their customers.

  2. Tina

    Does SS still mail out the paper print out of your SS earnings? Thank you

    • Ray F.

      Hi Tina. We mail paper Statements to workers age 60 and older three months before their birthday, if they don’t receive Social Security benefits. You can get your personal Social Security Statement online by using your my Social Security account. Thanks!

  3. John H.

    Thank you for the information.

  4. Lois H.

    I do not like the fact that our CPI is lower than people that aren’t on SS. We pay the same prices in the stores as every one else. I don’t think it is fair.

  5. David W.

    Starting at age 62, you get a higher monthly benefit if you claim later rather than earlier. This holds true right up to age 70. Why the focus on FRA?

    • Ray F.

      Hi, David. Full retirement age or FRA is the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits. Also, if you work and are full retirement age or older, the amount you make at work will not affect your Social Security benefits, no matter how much you earn. Please read our publication “How Work Affects Your Benefits” for more information.

  6. Richard w.

    I’m still employed, age 71, and I’m receiving social security. Will the benifits increase each year I work or is it set for the rest of my life time?

    • AKA

      Your benefits can increase. By now at your age you should have experienced re computations of your benefits each year that you worked and received notices around this time each year. So it is puzzling why you’d ask such a question.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your questions Richard. The amount of benefits you receive is established at the time you applied for retirement benefits. It is based on the amount of your average lifetime earnings and your age at the time you applied. Generally, if you continue to work while receiving retirement benefits, your monthly benefit amount could increase. Each year, we review the records for all working Social Security recipients to see if additional earnings may increase monthly benefits. See our Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working for more information.

  7. Russell -.

    why don’t you just spell the words and it would be alot easyer for every one

    • Jeff

      “easyer” ?for “every one”

      Did you mean easier for everyone?

      If you did, they use acronyms to shorten the letters and not keep repeating 4-5 words when they can use an acronym.

      They give an explanation and the full wording of what the acronym means at the beginning of the letter. They then will just use the acronym throughout the rest of the letter.

      I guess they need to start making their letters ‘easyer’ to read so people that can’t even spell a simple word can understand.

      Oh wait, people wouldn’t understand anyway and will always complain. I don’t know what I was thinking.

  8. Arletta F.

    Isn’t it strange that no one ever mentions the medicare surcharge based on Adjusted Gross Income that was slipped in quietly a few years ago?

    • AKA

      Because it involves such a small minority of people, that’s why.

      • Kelvin E.

        Why sea will not pay if you no work 2 yrs before stroke say you not insured. They never tell you that

        • Ray F.

          Hi Kelvin, when it comes to qualifying for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability Income or SSDI program, individuals must have worked
          –long enough and recently enough– under Social Security to qualify for disability benefits. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which you have to earn within the last 10 years before you become disabled. Thanks!

    • Susan m.

      Yeah rightyeah nothing better to do at 40 years old but get through out after operation with no money no help I wish it on all of you after working 16 at one factory with 30 hours overtime a week then another for 14 year with 36 hours overtime to get shit wait I m ome in million who got medicare ins when have private plan co went operation so be quite

  9. EDWARD I.

    We all will welcome any simplified presentations that are received in “common, everyday English language”, After all this is America; others can find interpreters, if need be!

  10. carols

    In written communications, the first time a technical term is used it should be spelled out with it’s acronym in parenthesis. Thereafter, use the acronym. Never use only the acronym in written communications, it forces the reader to do additional research to understand what has been written.

    Please advise SSA staff that the public is not familiar with Social Security industry jargon.

    • Marc

      @carols: Ahem…that’s what this blog post – yes, the post you’re commenting on – is saying. It gave the acronym followed by the words behind the letters (titles), followed by a full explanation of the function of each concept/program/acronym. It even explained what an acronym is and why it’s used. All of which begs the question: Exactly what are you criticizing the SSA for doing or failing to do in this blog post? A rhetorical question, of course, given that I’ve already demonstrated that the article includes everything you believe it should, and more.

      • AKA

        Excellent retort. Some people like to complain just to hear themselves talk.

      • carols

        Hi Marc,

        You are correct, this SSA narrative does present as I commented. In my comment I wanted to note that not all SSA communications (this blog and personal communications) follow this format, i.e. use SSA acronyms without explanation.

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